March 14, 2015
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) The horn had barely sounded when Notre Dame coach Mike Brey walked right to Jerian Grant and wrapped him up in a huge hug as the rest of the players rushed by them onto the court.
Moments later, Brey was pumping his fist again and again before snipping the final strand of the net hanging from the rim.
The Fighting Irish had come to Tobacco Road, beaten two of its bluebloods and walked away with the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Pat Connaughton added 20 points for the third-seeded Irish (29-5). They went from trailing by nine to up double figures with a stunning burst that seized momentum in what amounted to a road game and sent the program to its first title in any league.
Grant scored 24 points and No. 11 Notre Dame took over with a 26-3 second-half run to rally past No. 19 North Carolina, 90-82 on Saturday night in the tournament final.
One night after beating No. 2 Duke, the third-seeded Irish (29-5) erased a nine-point hole with a stunning burst that seized momentum in what amounted to a road game and sent the program to its first title in any league.
”There’s been a special vibe about this group since we came to town Monday night,” Brey said on the court as his players cut down nets. ”I felt great about tonight. I felt good about last night. And for us to do it, through Duke and Carolina, on Tobacco Road, it’s just amazing.”
Pat Connaughton added 20 points as Notre Dame shot 54 percent and took over with what Brey described as a ”lightning strike” of a run, with the Irish getting into a fast-paced, free-flowing attack set loose by a few ill-timed turnovers by the Tar Heels (24-11).
When it was over, Notre Dame had turned a 63-54 deficit into an 80-66 lead with 2:54 left and largely silenced a home-state UNC crowd featuring plenty of blue in the seats.
”Just, I am a little bit in awe of what my team did tonight,” Brey said, ”and really the whole weekend here.”
The Irish had been to six Big East Tournament semifinals in 18 seasons in the league but never reached the final, then bolted for the ACC before last season.
They lost 17 games while Grant missed the second half of last season after being suspended from school for an undisclosed academic violation. Grant was named tournament MVP with 10 assists and a 15-for-18 performance from the foul line.
”Just to know where I was last year, sitting in the stands watching, and now I’ve got this (championship) shirt, this hat and this trophy, it means a lot,” Grant said.
Marcus Paige scored 22 of his 24 points after halftime for the fifth-seeded Tar Heels, who were trying to become the first team in tournament history to take home the title with four wins in four days.
Instead, as Notre Dame found its groove and started burying shots from just about everywhere, North Carolina suddenly looked lost.
”It wasn’t anything about being tired from playing four days,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. ”That would just be an excuse. … We panicked a little bit more than we have at any time this year, and their defense got stronger with every basket and our movement got worse.”
Notre Dame made 10 of 20 3-pointers and hit 28 of 32 free throws to keep the pressure on the Tar Heels’ defenders.
North Carolina – which had beaten No. 14 Louisville and No.3 Virginia to reach the final – shot 58 percent after halftime, but just couldn’t keep up once Notre Dame got rolling.
North Carolina: Brice Johnson scored 20 points on 10-for-12 shooting. … Freshman Justin Jackson had been on a roll in the tournament, but scored just seven on 3-for-12 shooting while missing all seven 3-point tries. … The Tar Heels were trying to become the first No. 5 seed to win the tournament.
Notre Dame: All five starters scored in double figures. … Zach Auguste had 16 points and 13 rebounds. … Notre Dame scored 51 second-half points.
Notre Dame’s win marked the fourth straight year that a school from outside of North Carolina won the league tournament, following Florida State in 2012, Miami in 2013 and Virginia last year. It’s the longest such stretch in league history.
The Tar Heels reached the final for the fourth time in five years, but they haven’t won the tournament since 2008.
Notre Dame: NCAA Tournament.